Windows dual boots its way onto a Linux stage

IBM says it has built what may be the largest Windows/Linux HPC dual-boot system yet

Windows may never boot Linux from its dominant role in high performance computing, but Microsoft's dual-boot strategy is making some inroads. IBM says it has built what may be the largest Windows/Linux HPC dual-boot system yet for a university research group in Sweden.

IBM today plans to detail a blade system running 5,376 Intel Xeon quad-core processors; each chip runs at 2.5GHz and uses 50 watts. The system, which is capable of reaching 46 sustained teraflops, runs a beta version of Windows HPC Server 2008.

The system was built at Umea University in Stockholm for a consortium of universities that use the High Performance Computing Center North, which provides computing resources for a wide range of academic research disciplines.

Linux is used on about 85 percent of all HPC systems, according to the Top 500 computing list maintained by academic researchers in the US and in Europe. Windows has less than 2 percent.

The Umea University machine would rank in the top 50 of the list of most powerful systems - at least under the old list. An updated list will be released this week at the International Supercomputing Conference in Dresden, Germany.

Microsoft has been interested in HPC for about three years, but hasn't seen a lot of growth in this area, said Earl Joseph, an analyst at IDC. "But we're watching it very closely because they are investing so much." Moreover, Microsoft's cluster software has improved to the point where it's a good product, he said.

Although most HPC applications run on Linux, some researchers do their work on Windows-based workstations "and [this] makes it a really easy step to go from there to a server that has Windows," said Joseph. The dual-boot strategy opens the HPC for both kinds of OS users.

"It's really a home run fit for a lot of folks," he said.

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